|By the Project for Excellence in Journalism
How do the ethnic media differ from the mainstream in the United States?
What would a reader or viewer of the major ethnic media, Spanish-language, learn or not learn about a particular event compared with what is offered in English? What angles does the ethnic press address versus the mainstream media? What sources did they turn to, and what was the overall tone of the coverage?
To find out, we turned to one of the big issues of 2007 with natural interest to the Hispanic population, the debate over immigration, and examined the coverage in the leading Spanish-language television networks and three major papers and compared that with similar English language press from one key period, the week the immigration bill died in the U.S. Senate.
The answer is that Hispanic audiences turning to native-language news, especially the broadcast programs, heard a much different side of the bill’s defeat.
Two years ago, in the 2005 State of the Media Report, the Project studied front-page coverage of five ethnic newspapers in New York City. We found, among other things, that the ethnic press was filled with three distinct types of news that appealed to their ethnic audiences: They covered events back in their native countries, they offered U.S. national news events with a more ethnic angle and they covered local events directly related to that outlet’s ethnic community.
This year, we wanted to probe further into ethnic coverage of U.S. national news by closely examining a single event. To focus on these questions, we conducted a snap shot study of one crucial week during the debate over immigration: the week the Senate closed debate on an overhaul of the immigration law, June 25 to 29, 2007. The Senate’s inability to reach a compromise on an immigration bill was viewed by many as the end of discussion until at least 2009. In a clip from June 27,as the Senate leadership struggled to muster the 60 votes necessary to continue the debate, Senator Ken Salazar, a Democrat from Colorado, told Univision, “If we don’t have the 60 votes, goodbye to immigration reform, possibly for 10 years.”
For this snapshot, the Project for Excellence in Journalism compared coverage between English and Spanish media looking at four English-language nightly news programs (the three network evening newscasts and the PBS NewsHour), two Spanish-language evening newscasts (Telemundo’s Noticiero and Univision’s Noticiero) and the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post and three Spanish language newspapers, El Diario-La Prensa, La Opinión and El Nuevo Herald. We analyzed the extent of coverage, the prominence given to the story, the tone of the coverage, sources and length.
The greatest differences occurred on the broadcast side, where the Spanish coverage was more emotional, much less about the politics and more about effects on every-day people, and turned to immigrants for comment. Spanish-language print was closer to English-language press in its more detached approach to the coverage, often using a mix of sources similar to their English-language counterparts. The biggest differences in print were among the three Spanish-language papers themselves, displaying the vast range of Spanish language roots in the U.S.
What were Hispanics who watched Univision and Telemundo, the equivalent of the network evening newscasts, getting that viewers watching the ABC World News Tonight, the NBC Nightly News, the CBS Evening News and PBS’ NewsHour weren’t? How were their media experiences different?
During the week the immigration bill died in the Senate, the most striking differences between English and Spanish media occurred in broadcast.
PEJ examined Spanish network national evening news on the two major stations, Telemundo and Univision and compared it to evening network news on the major networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. PEJ also examined the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS.
The first noticeable difference was in the amount of coverage the issue received. Spanish language broadcasts gave the issue much more attention and greater prominence than network news. PBS was more in line with the ethnic media.
Telemundo and Univision aired a total of 18 stories focusing on the immigration bill during the period. Of these stories, 14 aired in one of the first three segments. (The vast majority, 12 in all, were edited packages. Three were interviews and three were brief tell stories).
By comparison, ABC, NBC and CBS covered the issue substantially less. In total there were just eight stories during this period. What they did produce was given high prominence with most — six out of the eight — in the first three stories. Of these stories, four were packaged pieces, two were interviews and two were tell stories.
The PBS NewsHour, however, covered the story much more heavily than the main networks. It aired 10 stories on the immigration bill in the first 30 minutes of the program (the time period we study). As is often the program’s style, more of these were roundtable interviews than packaged pieces (Two were packages, five were interviews and the remainder were simple tell stories or anchor voiceovers.
The most striking differences came in the focus and tenor of the coverage. In the more qualitative assessment of the coverage, three characteristics of the Spanish- language coverage stood out:
More than anything else, what Hispanics watching Spanish broadcast coverage got that was different from English network coverage, was in a word, sympathy. On June 28, the day the bill was defeated and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos began the broadcast by saying (translated into English):
“The news could not be worse for undocumented immigrants in the United States. In a vote, the Senate killed plans to legalize millions of immigrants. With this decision, the hopes of many that immigration law will change with respect to those without documentation in this country have disappeared. Thirty-six Republicans and 15 Democrats voted against continuing the debate — this is to say that they killed the reform. We have extensive coverage of this decision and its enormous consequences.”
Comparatively, English network news coverage was more detached and focused on the bill as a political defeat for President Bush. For example, on that same day, NBC’s Brian Williams led into the coverage by saying, “The other big story in Washington tonight is the defeat of the immigration reform bill in the U.S. Senate. A vote to go forward with it fell a whopping 14 votes short. It’s a big loss for President Bush, who pushed hard to revive this bill only to see it lose big today.”
Along with emotion and sympathy, the Hispanic anchors and reporters offered a clear stance on the vote. The coverage treated the defeat of the bill as a significant setback for the Hispanic community. Spanish broadcast media openly offered their strong bias toward finding a solution for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the United Sates.
A package on Telemundo the day the measure was defeated began with a Hispanic woman calling in to the popular Hispanic radio talk host Eduardo Sotelo in tears, saying how upset she was by the Senate’s action. The package then went on to show Sotelo himself in tears. The word “disappointed” came up many times in interviews and sound bites with activists and other Hispanics hoping for a solution to immigration policy in the United States.
If the wish was for protection of illegal immigrants, the Spanish broadcasters were not shy to lay blame at the feet of both Democrats and Republicans for their failure to find a solution. While some Spanish coverage mentioned the bill as a significant defeat for President Bush and its political implications for him as most English coverage did, it mainly spoke of the Senate’s decision in the context of the implications for the 12 million illegal immigrants currently in this country. Many interviews and pieces focused on every-day Hispanics hoping and depending on the Senate to find a solution for either themselves, their families or members of their community. Telemundo showed a group of immigrants holding hands and praying in front of the Capitol before and during the Senate’s vote.
In portraying the impact on Hispanics, the most popular sources were interviews with every-day Hispanics and Hispanic activists representing organizations such as the Consejo Nacional La Raza (National Council of La Raza) and the Coalición por Reforma Migratoria (Coalition for Immigration Reform) to illustrate the effects the bill would have upon the Hispanic community. In covering the political aspects of the bill, reporters relied heavily upon Spanish-speaking senators like Mel Martinez, Robert Menendez and Ken Salazar and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez.
Some may think that these findings place the Spanish-language broadcasts closer in style to the English-language cable talk programming. It is important to note, though, that the newscasts on Telemundo and Univision are the only national news programs offered. The networks operate more like ABC, CBS and NBC in that they carry all types of programming, with news just one small segment in the mix. There is no real comparison, then to the televised news talk shows. The genre that offers this kind of programming in Spanish is radio.
In print, there is more continuity between the English-language and Spanish-language press, though differences do emerge in a few key areas. Some of the bigger disparities lie within the three big Spanish-language papers, speaking to the great diversity of the Hispanic population across the U.S. For the print analysis from June 25 to 29, PEJ included all the newspaper stories on immigration that appeared anywhere in the front sections.
Over all, the English-language papers had more stories but gave them less prominence than the Spanish-language papers. The three English-language papers ran a total of 37 stories during the five days (pretty evenly distributed among the three) while the Spanish papers ran 22. The majority of the English-language stories fell in the inside pages — 23 out of 37. Just 14 made page 1. The Spanish-language papers, on the other hand, ran 15 of the 22 on page 1.
Despite more prominence, the Spanish-language articles tended to be shorter. A majority (15 out of 22) were between 200 and 800 words. English-language reporters wrote longer, with 22 out of the 37 articles running well beyond 800 words.
Some of that length was devoted to covering different angles of the bill’s defeat and as well as details on the socio-political implications (mainly for American citizens), often with more quotes and statements from parties involved in the bill’s development and defeat. The Washington Post, for example, ran a 1,434-word article on an American labor recruiter who has created a database that helps match skills of Mexican laborers with job opportunities in the U.S.
The Spanish articles tended to narrow in on the Senate’s proceedings and the implications of the bill on Hispanic immigrants.
When it came to tone, the Spanish-language print media were more like English-language media than like Spanish-language broadcasters. The reports remained mostly neutral, although a few articles did reflect a bias. For example, the day after the bill was defeated when coverage peaked in both Spanish broadcast and print, El Diario-La Prensa offered this straightforward account: “The immigration bill suffered a checkmate in the Senate, where for the second time in a month, legislators voted to limit debate and proceed to a definitive vote. With a final result of 46 votes in favor and 53 against limiting the debate to thirty hours, the measure was very far — 14 votes shy — of the 60 needed to overcome this obstacle.”
In assessing the implications of the defeat, Spanish papers still mostly focused on it as a loss for immigrants nationwide, but they also at times, more often than Spanish-language broadcasts, addressed it as a loss for President Bush. After the bill’s defeat, La Opinión wrote: “It was a political defeat for President Bush, who personally lobbied for the bill and hoped to make the reform his legacy in domestic policy. Bush regretted the result and said: ‘The failure of the Congress to act is disappointing.’ He added: ‘We worked hard to see if we could find a point in common, but it didn’t work.’ ” Similarly, El Diario reported: “President George Bush is personally involved in lobbying undecided Republican senators to obtain the required votes so the Senate approves the measure and sends it to the House. Bush wants immigration reform to be his legacy in domestic policy.”
A closer look at the Spanish outlets reveals a bigger difference and points to an important reality of the Hispanic community throughout the United States: Hispanics differ greatly in their individual cultures, nationalities and ethnicities. The way each of these papers chose to cover the immigration story reflected these differences clearly.
The three Spanish newspapers differed greatly in the number of stories they ran. La Opinión ran 12 articles on the immigration bill, El Diario ran seven and El Nuevo Herald ran only three. The prominence and tone of the coverage differed as well.
La Opinión, based in Los Angeles, gave the story the greatest amount of coverage and highest prominence of the three. It ran all of its 12 articles on page 1. The readership of the paper helps explain differences in the scope and tenor of the coverage. According to its own information, 79% of the newspaper’s readers are Mexican and 13% are of Central American origins.1 The issue of immigration reform had a great deal of bearing on these communities, as they are geographically the closest to the border with the United States.2 La Opinión relied on a mix of sources from the Senate and House (both English- and Spanish-speaking lawmakers) as well as activists of various organizations representing the Hispanic community.
La Opinión also stood out as the paper that brought the most emotion from reporters into its coverage. Its June 29 article read:
“In the end, what mattered was not the opinion of the majority of Americans, who in survey after survey for months, demonstrated favorability toward a pragmatic solution to the question of immigration…. To the contrary, what the majority thought was of little importance. Other things were of more importance: the anti-immigrant ideology of a handful of Republicans, politics, the rhetoric and mistreatment that the immigrants have received day after day on the radio talk shows in English and in the afternoons from Lou Dobbs of CNN.”3
The readership of El Diario/La Prensa, based in New York City, covers a mixed market of Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and Central Americans. It has few articles on the front page, heavy coverage of entertainment and sports, and coverage of pressing local and national news.
Over the period we looked at, the immigration bill made the front page twice, or two out of five days, and made the front section of the paper every day, with one article each day except for Friday, when the bill made the front page and was the subject of two more articles in the front section.
El Diario’s sources included English-speaking senators such as Dianne Feinstein of California and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, in addition to Spanish-speaking activists representing the Hispanic immigrant community. The tone of the articles over all was neutral with only two out of seven that really stood out as having a bias. When there was bias, it came in the form of telling stories of local immigrants and activists affected by the bill. One such piece focused on a local Ecuadorian lawyer counting on the bill’s success to reunite him with his family, and the other explored activist groups and their reaction to the Senate’s decision.
The coverage of El Diario was by far the most localized of the three Spanish-language papers.
Perhaps the most unusual paper of the three Spanish publications is El Nuevo Herald, which covered the immigration issue significantly less than the others. Its readership is primarily the Cuban population of Miami-Dade County, which makes up 47% of the total Hispanic population of the county.4
It can be reasoned then that the paper would cover immigration significantly less, because Cubans entering the United States are subject to different immigration laws than other Hispanic immigrants. According to a Congressional Research Service report prepared in 2005, “Cubans who do not reach the shore (i.e. dry land), are interdicted and returned to Cuba unless they cite fears of persecution. Those Cubans who successfully reach the shore are inspected for entry . . . and generally permitted to stay and adjust under the Cuban Adjustment Act.”5
Cubans as a group are surely interested in the issue of immigration as it pertains to the Hispanic community, but unless a provision was being considered that would specifically affect the Cuban population entering the U.S., they as a group had less invested in the issue of immigration than, for example, Mexicans or Central Americans.
El Nuevo Herald’s coverage of the immigration bill reflects this accurately. During the period PEJ covered, the issue of immigration only made the front page once (with a wire story) and the inside pages twice throughout the week, compared to La Opinión’s 12, and El Diario’s seven.
Over all, during the week the immigration bill died in the Senate, consumers turning to Spanish-language media for their news probably came away with a different perception of the meaning and impact of the defeat. They learned about angles not focused on in much of the English-language media, heard from different people and, especially in broadcast, often heard what the reporters themselves felt about the situation.
As Ethnic media in this country continue to grow in number, expand their reach, and even differentiate among themselves, the importance of the content will grow as well.
PEJ studied the period June 25-29, 2007. In print we studied the front-sections of three Hispanic papers — La Opinión, El Nuevo Herald and El Diario-La Prensa – and three English-language papers — the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. In broadcast we studied the three English-language commercial television network evening newscasts and the PBS NewsHour and two Spanish-language evening newscasts, on Telemundo and Univision.
During this period all stories that were at least 50% about the issue of immigration were captured for analysis.
Five of the six papers — La Opinión, El Nuevo Herald, the Washington Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times — were collected by conducting a simple LexisNexis search, which allowed us to determine the word counts and placement of each story. Since El Diario-La Prensa was unavailable on LexisNexis, hard copies of the papers were obtained from the New York Public Library archives and all relevant articles were obtained. PEJ collected and studied all stories on the immigration bill appearing in the front section of each paper. The papers were selected based on circulation and geographic relevance to show the differences between different Hispanic markets, since Hispanic newspapers do not circulate nationally.
The broadcast stories were obtained from National Aircheck, a broadcast media monitoring firm. English broadcast stories were collected from PEJ’s news index archives, which contains daily network broadcast news programs. PEJ’s normal practice is to code only the first 30 minutes of a news broadcast if the program airs for over one hour, but in the case of all broadcast sources in English and Spanish, save for PBS NewsHour, all programs air for thirty minutes. In the case of PBS, PEJ coded only the first half hour.
Once the stories were collected, PEJ used the content analysis method employing original software designed to organize the stories according to specific variables. We selected several different variables that would allow us to measure each article quantitatively and qualitatively. For this project, the English-language stories had already been coded and identified in the News Index as being on the discussion of the immigration legislation, and PEJ went back in the database and isolated those stories and combined them with the Spanish-language stories in the database. The stories were categorized by:
The story describer serves the purpose of allowing us to quickly identify a story based on content and gives a brief description of the material covered in the article. The three main sources variable specifies where the reporters obtained their information from when they relied on an outside source. Quotes from politicians or activists, statistics from organizations and interviews with citizens all are considered sources.
The qualitative aspect of the project focused on examining the articles for tone, language use and any other similarities or differences found in both print and broadcast. The stories were compared to one another in their respective languages and mediums and were then compared in English and Spanish to draw comparisons.
All stories were coded in their original language.
Total Number of Stories
Number of Stories by Source – Broadcast
Number of Stories by Source – Print
Placement/ Prominence – Print
Placement/ Prominence – Broadcast
2. Based on Lexis Nexis Archiving system that identified all articles in La Opinión as appearing on the front page.
3. Pilar Marrero, La Opinión, June 29, 2007. “Voz de Mayoria Importo Poco; El Discurso antiinmigrante se impuso en el debate.”